Simon Sinek is the victim of bad storytelling

Maybe you’ve heard about Simon Sinek’s terrible comments about charity overhead. It came up in his “A Bit of Optimism” Podcast when he interviewed charity: water founder Scott Harrison. (You can see it here on YouTube).

But here’s the ugly part:

… you know the cynicism of where money goes in charities, and so much of it goes to overhead, and so little of it goes to the cause. And an abysmally small amount of money that we give to these famous charities goes to the actual cause.

Clearly, Sinek has done zero research on charity overhead. If he did, he’d know that the much bigger program is most charities don’t spend enough on overhead, which keeps them from being fully effective.

Simon is just repeating a story he’s heard. It’s a story spread by the media with help from some of the charity watchdogs.

It spreads easily by people who never or rarely give. Because it’s a plausible reason not to give: Charities just waste your money and don’t accomplish much. It makes your lack of charity someone else’s fault: If only those crummy nonprofits would stop spending money on overhead, I’d start giving!

Unfortunately, we can’t un-tell a story that people want to believe.

But you can tell a different story and flip the script on the bad one: A story about donors putting their values to work changing the world in inspiring ways. A story where “overhead” isn’t a drag on getting the real work done, but part of the real work.

That story can spread by people who want to participate in changing the world. And, just maybe, it can spread to some who are trapped in the sad story that there’s no point getting involved because of all that overhead.

There’s a helpful post on the Moceanic Blog about telling this better story: The Overhead Myth, and the Pie Chart Solution.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.